Looking to allow for more homes near airport, Newport Beach plans to overrule commission’s decision

Newport Beach Civic Center and City Hall.
The city submitted a number of amendments to the Orange County Airport Land Use Commission for consistency reviews with the John Wayne Airport Environs Land Use Plan.
(File Photo)

The Newport Beach City Council announced this week its intention to override a decision made by the Orange County Airport Land Use Commission in order to adopt a series of amendments to alter its land use and noise elements and zoning codes to accommodate for housing.

This is not the first time the Newport Beach City Council has done so.

In September 2021, when the panel was adopting its mandated housing element plan, the city submitted its plans to the commission for a consistency review. At that time the commission found the plans to be inconsistent with the 2008 John Wayne Airport Environs Land Use Plan with respect to noise, safety and land use incompatibility. The City Council overrode that decision and adopted the housing element in September 2022.

The changes discussed by the City Council Tuesday focused on several sites near the airport and within the 65 db Community Noise Equivalent Level contour, which indicates the level of noise that people living near the airport may face. The Federal Aviation Administration indicates that its Day-Night Average Sound Level threshold for significant noise exposure is 65 dBA.


In a report prepared for the item, city staff said existing policies and regulations prevent this specific area from being used for residential purposes, but the sites identified are critical in order for the city to meet its Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers. An estimated 4,834 housing units must be accounted for on paper over the next decade in Newport Beach, and as a result, those regulations must be updated for residential use.

The airport area is one of five subject to the city’s scrutiny for possible places to add housing. City staff say it alone has 62 potential new housing opportunity sites that could account for up to 2,577 housing units — almost 25% of the units needed.

The amendments, as proposed, were to update existing noise contours, to update the land use and noise policies to include those new noise contours and additional noise attenuation measures, and to allow for residential units identified in the existing housing element to be located there.

City Atty. Aaron Harp stressed during the hearing that the action taken Tuesday only announces the city’s intent. At least two-thirds of the dais was required to make the findings to overrule the commission to remain consistent. A resolution will later come up before the City Council for adoption.

Residents during public comment on Tuesday were overwhelmingly against any move to override the commission’s ruling and allow for residential projects close to the airport. One individual played a recording of airplane noise.

“It’s clear by the amount of letters that you’ve received that this plan has not been well-vetted,” said Charles Klobe, president of Still Protecting Our Newport, a nonprofit that focuses on the preservation of the city. “It seems there needs to be more outreach that’s done, and ... it makes it much harder to get the vote in 2024 to approve the land use element when you keep piling more and more distasteful things into it.”

In her remarks, resident Sue Dvorak told the council, “Clearly, this [RHNA] mandate presents significant challenges for our community, but it doesn’t justify allowing residential units to be built in an area which would expose Newport Beach residents to the adverse effects of increased aircraft noise and pollution. This housing proposal has the potential to create problems for the city and its residents for decades to come.

“More importantly, fulfilling the mandate in this manner should not be undertaken if it has any potential at all to jeopardize our Spheres Agreement” — a cooperative agreement signed by the city and county in November 2006 — “[and] subject the city to legal challenges during upcoming settlement discussions or weaken the city’s ability to advocate on behalf of residents where the airport is concerned.”

Mayor Noah Blom acknowledged residents’ concerns, adding that he also was not enthused by the prospect. Blom said the dais wanted to protect the settlement agreement and did not want to do anything to jeopardize it, stressing that council was “very, very, very concerned with the curfews, the times the planes take off. We get it.

“I understand where we’re coming from and just know that we’re not here to take away anything, to change the quality of life; we’re working in a way to make sure that we can protect the quality of life in Newport, and I know it sometimes doesn’t always seem from your perspective that is the way, but this is a letter to say, ‘Hey, these are where we’re looking to put housing because these private people that own this land want to put something there,’” Blom said.